Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been called many things in the course of his long career, but “Christ-like” is probably not among them. Still, an important maneuver the wily Kentuckian is undertaking is reminiscent of the New Testament story of Jesus getting hold of demons afflicting two men and casting them into a herd of pigs, who then raced off a cliff.
The “demons” in McConnell’s case are toxic legislative proposals that if attached to must-pass appropriations measures could lead to a government shutdown later this month, which both he and Speaker Paul Ryan are determined to avoid. These would most definitely include “defunding” Planned Parenthood and repealing (or more accurately crippling) the Affordable Care Act of 2010. The doomed “herd of pigs” is a meaningless, entirely symbolic budget reconciliation bill that the president will veto without further consequences about five minutes after it reaches his desk.
As Politico’s Kim, Everett, and Haberkorn explain today, McConnell first talked the big national anti-choice groups into agreeing to make the reconciliation bill the vehicle for their "defund Planned Parenthood" push. (There had been some earlier indications that anti-choice elites shared the feeling of their congressional Republican bedfellows that winning the 2016 presidential election was a better avenue for achieving their goals than a legislative Armageddon that might give Democrats a crucial campaign talking point.) He’s now using the support of these fearsome groups to pressure conservatives in both chambers (most notably, presidential candidates Cruz and Rubio, who have every reason to oppose the hated Republican Establishment whenever possible) to go along with his maneuver. Politico expects Cruz and Rubio to go along after making a lot of joyful noises about the Senate bill’s superior Obamacare provisions (as compared to an earlier House bill denounced by conservative ultras). McConnell can then afford to lose a couple of votes from Republican senators (e.g., Mark Kirk and Susan Collins) unhappy with the Planned Parenthood funding ban.
If this all works out, McConnell can tell conservative members of Congress they’ve succeeded in showing the GOP’s restive “base” the kind of ass-kicking Obama policies and godless liberals will receive if Republicans win a White House and congressional trifecta next November. But he’ll also be able to tell financial elites and GOP donors he’s avoided any more government shutdown nonsense by giving the ideologues a harmless if serious-sounding outlet for their craziness — in other words, running them right off a cliff.